Conservation commission approves two trail projects
Two sets of proposed walking trails got the go-ahead from the Westport Conservation Commission on Wednesday night.
Willowbrook Cemetery is now cleared to start work on its nature-preserve plans, along the northwestern edge of the cemetery, while the Newman/Poses Nature Preserve will now go before to the Planning and Zoning Commission for final approval.
The Newman/Poses Nature Preserve is a 38-acre site at the corner of Bayberry Lane, Coleytown Road and Easton. Maintained by the Aspetuck Land Trust on behalf of the town, the application called for a network of 3- to 4-foot-wide trails into the property.
The trails would meander around large boulders and trees, avoiding as much wetland area as possible, said David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust. Where the trails must cross wetlands, the pathways would be elevated onto cedar-posted, raised boardwalks. These would be mainly near the proposed three-space gravel parking lot.
Brant said the preserve would be groomed mostly with hand tools, and that work on the boardwalks would be limited to the dryer months of the year. He said signs would be posted along the trails -- alerting hikers to the presence of ticks; reminding dog-owners to keep their pets leashed, and directing hikers along the various trails. The large meadow area would be mowed every other fall, he added, and trail maps would be available both online and at information kiosks.
The Newman/Poses Nature Preserve has been town-owned since 1997, when the late actor Paul Newman donated 7.5 acres of it to the town, and the town purchased the remaining 29.9 acres from the Poses family for $3.75 million
Meanwhile, the Willowbrook Cemetery's application called for creating a 3-foot-wide "memorial walk" through and around an inland-wetland area in a corner of the cemetery. Currently, that corner is described as litter-strewn, weed-choked and unsuitable for burial.
The memorial walk would also skirt wetlands as much as possible, the application said. Some areas, however, get a few inches of water in late winter and early spring every year, the applicants said. At those spots, a roughly 3-inch-high boardwalk would be installed.
Nearby developments have caused the wetland area to drop by a factor of three in terms of size over the past 50 years, said Bill Kenny, a wetlands consultant from Fairfield helping Willowbrook with its application. That has lowered the water table, exposed tree roots and caused invasive plant species to proliferate.
Part of the plan calls for removing invasive plants and planting a new patch of diverse plant life, Kenny said. This would bring new types of insect and bird life to the area nearby the memorial walk.
During construction, there would be a dead-end path leading to the swampiest part of the wetland, allow golf-carts to be used by workers pulling out debris. The debris would be collected by hand and placed on the cart for removal. Kenny said that path could be removed once the debris is fully removed.
While the Willowbrook Cemetery is a private entity, the site is open to the public for quiet activity, such as jogging or walking, the applicants said. "We're hoping this will discourage people from coming back there to drink beers," said Carole Reichhelm, president of the board of trustees for the cemetery.
"We'd love it if we could get started this summer," said Deborah Truhowsky, the cemetery's manager. "The biggest part of the project will be in cleaning out the area. But we've got the project at the forefront of our plans and will start it as soon as we can."